The cruise industry—and the travel advisors who sell them—have had to deal with months of uncertainty surrounding its resumption of operations in the U.S.
As cruise lines have had to put out regular announcements canceling upcoming itineraries that are unable to sail as they continue to await guidance from the CDC, advisors have had to rebook clients, handle FCCs, and more.
Last week, however, saw a bit of a bright spot for cruises. Several lines announced they will begin homeporting over the summer in Caribbean destinations, bypassing the CDC while remaining close to the American market.
It has made all the difference for clients, said Carol Matulonis, Cruise Planners franchise owner. “Our clients have something tangible to look forward to and get excited about, especially those who've had lots of cancellations over the past year.”
Matulonis said during these past few weeks, her agency has started to see bookings shift to a majority of new travel rather than rebooking and managing cancellations. “That's an uplifting feeling and great position to be in,” she said. “Now more than ever our clients are asking to be on the ‘first ship,’ so with the announcement of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity's June sailings, we've already compiled a waiting list of clients who we will be booking as soon as those sailings open.”
“In the early days of the pandemic, you couldn’t even say the “c” word – people didn’t want to hear about taking a cruise,” said Megan Reimer, Owner of Cruise Vacations of Winnipeg, during a recent Ensemble Travel Group’s Restart Sessions Video Series. “But now with so many more people getting vaccinated and a sense that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we are seeing a lot of people interested in using their credits as well as new bookings.
Marc Bokoff, Cruise Planners franchise owner, remembers those early days as “hellacious in handling all the cancellations and trying to provide the best advice in a very fluid time.” By securing client refunds, future travel, and cruise credits, “we proved the value of a fully engaged travel advisor advocating for clients during a very tough time.”
Bokoff sees the restart of cruising in places like the Bahamas and St. Maarten as a smart move if the CDC is not ready to sanction cruises from U.S. ports. He expects to see “sufficient interest” in the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity options that open for sale this week and has already booked a Crystal Cruise right after they announced their launch in the Bahamas. He, too, plans to sail this summer.
Vaccine rollout has also been an encouraging sign for travel’s rebound, giving some travelers the boost in confidence they need to move ahead with bookings.
According to Allianz Partners’ latest survey of its U.S. travel insurance customers, 67% believe receiving a COVID-19 vaccine will make them feel safe enough to travel again.
Kathy Kennedy, Cruise Planners franchise owner, expects to potentially have a record month. “Overall, my bookings—resort, cruise, and tours—are picking up quickly. The news of Barbados by Royal Caribbean beginning in December was a huge hit. I created three groups and one sold out right away,” she said.
Matulonis said her team helped clients sign up for their appointments, “even if it meant waking up early when the scheduling windows opened. This way, if vaccines are required for travel, our clients are ready to go.”
DeeAna Archer, owner of Archer Luxury Travel, has also seen a shift in consumer sentiment. “Up until recently, we had stopped sending anything – offers, our newsletter. People just didn’t want to hear about travel,” she said during the Ensemble video series. “But now with so many more people getting vaccinated and a sense that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we are seeing a lot of people interested in using their credits as well as new bookings.”
For cruisers who might be holding out, Reimer makes a good point: “If you wait a year and think you’re going to get the cruise and cabin you want at the price you want, you’re going to be disappointed.”